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Alec Shelbrooke

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Iran: Military Action? Why Not Rule it Out?

Posted: 9/03/2012 00:00

I have never been in favour of the UK and the United States taking unilateral action against Iran; my views are well known to the whips. This is still my view. But, let me make it clear, the threat of any other military action with Iran cannot be ruled out.

The principle that overrides all of my thinking in foreign affairs is that I want to see everything that can possibly be done, to avoid the death of innocent people. It is this overriding principle that has led me to clarify my position. I am no pacifist, nor am I an appeaser, however I have been sickened in the last decade by Britain's and America's disastrous approach to Middle East affairs.

It is clear to us all that Iraq was a disaster. It not only resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, but it was carried out through the impatience of the then British and US leaders, who simply had their minds set on a conflict, regardless of what the weapons inspectors were advising. In my view, this also led to the shift in power that we now face with Iran today.

My opposition to military action against Iran was embedded in the experience of Iraq. To this day I simply will not support a unilateral military campaign. An attack tomorrow would simply be the best recruiting agent for a major war with the West, and the objectives would also be highly unclear.

So, with this in mind, can I be opposed to any military action with Iran?

To answer this I need to address my overriding key principle; that politicians have the highest moral responsibility above all else to prevent the deaths of innocent people; after all, war is the failure of politicians, but we should never take the threat of a retaliatory strike off the table.

So, what is the view of the general public? If you were to have 'the conversation in the pub' approach, the answer would seem pretty clear that we should not get involved. "Iran is nowhere near us", "they are going to get the bomb anyway", "we have been involved in too many Middle East conflicts", "what does it have to do with us?", "Leave it to the Israelis, they're the only ones under threat".

A chorus of statements that I have heard in my constituency, all of which would suggest that Britain should not be involved under any circumstances.

If only it was that simple. As a benevolent country we have an obligation to provide assistance to all our UN partners. As a politician I have a commitment to protect the UK interests. As an MP I have a commitment to my constituents to ensure that their standard of living is protected.

My driving question is: does Iran actually have to drop a nuclear bomb to dominate the Middle East? I would argue, no.

There are those who try to placate the language of President Ahmadinejad arguing that he did not actually say that Israel should be wiped off the map, or that his words were lost in translation. However, regardless of any spin doctoring or appeasing sentimentality, one thing that can be derived from President Ahmadinejad's language is that he is a very dangerous man with an anti-Semitic agenda, who, at a minimum, believes that the Jews should be driven out of Jerusalem. Does this mean he would drop a nuclear bomb on Israel? Almost certainly not.

President Ahmadinejad has shown himself time again to be a wily operator and an extremely adept politician; vastly underestimated by some in the West. In my view there is no realistic chance of him inviting a full scale intervention on Iran through a direct attack on Israel, as the reprisals on his country would be devastating and certainly his regime would be destroyed. So he will achieve his anti-Semitic ideals through other means. At this point it is worth noting that although he cannot stand in the next Presidential Election, it does not mean he will disappear or not stand in the next. One only has to look at Russia.

We need to look at the effect that Iran with a nuclear weapon would have on the area. The first and most worrying would be the uprising by Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is common knowledge that Hezbollah are funded and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and that support from Iran is also given to Hamas. Both of these organisations are a constant threat to Israel; launching mortar attacks, kidnapping Israeli soldiers, a proxy war on the Israeli - Lebanon border in 2006 and the unrelenting goal of trying to achieve the destruction of the Jewish state. Imagine the empowerment that both of these organisations would have, with a nuclear power supporting them in the wings.

The argument should not just be about the threat to Israel either. An almost bigger concern is the Shia/Sunni conflict that would take place between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Also, without ever firing a nuclear weapon, Iran, with its superior military might, could easily walk into Bahrain, a Sunni government with a Shia majority. Indeed the Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain became a proxy war between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

A nuclear armed Iran on the boarder of Saudi Arabia would not be something the Saudi's will sit back and accept. One only has to look at the effect of the Cuban Missile crisis to see how effective moving weapons into an area can have; America agreed to withdraw its strategic missiles from Turkey. Therefore almost overnight, in my opinion, Saudi Arabia would become a Nuclear power with the backing of the United States, thus uttering in the dawn of a new Cold War?

So now we are into stalemate. What happens next? Well, clearly the Saudi's would demand the withdrawal of Iran form Bahrain and Iran would almost certainly say no. After all this, there would effectively be an Islamic war. However, add to this volatile compound the fact that the Saudi's would almost certainly have the backing of the West, a proxy war with the West would ensue and no shortage of Iranians and other Shia Muslims would be volunteering to go to battle. Should the war go from cold to hot, nuclear weapons would be in the arsenals, but the war would be fought conventionally, and this is where the effects on the West becomes huge.

Whether people like the argument about oil or not, the Straits of Hormuz would be a key strategic waterway for the Iranians in a war with Saudi Arabia; almost a modern day trench line. Supplies, tankers, trade etc effectively would be stuck either in or out of the Arabian Gulf. A global economic depression would ensue that would make the last few years seem like a warm-up act. Finally, the result would be the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

In demonstrating that a nuclear armed -Iran would not mean a nuclear war, but would almost certainly lead to a massive escalation in military conflict across the entire Middle East Region, leading to a devastating economic collapse across the entire world, the question which has not been answered by anyone is, what form would military action take?

Although I believe that the option of military action can not be taken off the table, I must reemphasise that we are a long way from carrying out such an act. The current sanctions are starting to have an impact. The Russians do not want a nuclear Iran but will not countenance a military attack. This makes things complicated because a UN resolution seems very unlikely as Russia and China would veto it. Therefore the options would be limited.

An air attack has many uncertainties. A well developed Iranian Air Defence system does not make this an easy task, compared to say the recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Despite the huge advancement in bunker busting, laser guided missiles, the key assumption is that the missile gets to reach its target. The Iranians highly developed military capability means that one cannot rule out that they could divert any missiles from the target, thus most likely killing innocent people.

A land war? It is much more specific in its objectives, but, lest we forget, the land border war of 1980 to 1988 between Iran and Iraq killed over a million people and resulted in stalemate. Indeed, it left Saddam Hussein so humiliated that he had no choice but to invade Kuwait to prove he was still a regional power. Thus leading, to not only twenty years of conflict, but in my view, the reason we are having this discussion today.

It is highly likely in my opinion however, that there will be some early peripheral battles as Iran tries to kick back at sanctions. If Iran does blockade the straits of Hormuz, then a legitimate naval conflict will follow to countenance this illegal act. But this will be a side-show to the ongoing development of their nuclear programme.

So, if the West engages in warfare due to illegal acts by Iran at sea, what action can we take to slow down the nuclear programme?

In my view, we need to disrupt the nuclear programme without killing hundreds of innocent people. I would condemn any nation that ordered the assassination of Iranian scientists. However, I am willing to support the electronic attacks on laboratory equipment. If the Iranian nuclear programme can be held back, or even shut down through electronic computer attack, then perhaps we may evade a 'hot' war.

Although we cannot rule out and indeed would have no choice but to react to illegal, tangible military activities, such as the blockade of the Straits of Hormuz, we should look at all other possible means, especially cyber warfare before conventional military action and this should only be used as the very last resort. Remember, pre-emptive unilateral strikes, not only would raise the stakes in the entire region, but would not be the relatively easy campaigns that took place in Iraq and Libya.

The pursuit of a resolution through careful diplomatic, multilateral, discussions must rank above all else. Perhaps our most powerful tool in halting the Iranian nuclear weapon campaign is Russia. It is not in Russia's interests to see a nuclear-armed Iran as they are a key trading nation. This important relationship could be damaged irreparably if we act in haste, setting us on a military route from which we may not have an exit strategy.

We have the highest moral obligation to protect life across the entire region. We must do everything in our power to ensure that we do not kill civilians. The deaths of innocent people through the direct actions of the West is not only the failure of politicians and morally indefensible, but will always be the greatest recruiting agent to fight the West, regardless of the intricacies of the action.

The decisions relating to Iran at this moment in history will have far reaching consequences that could affect every man, women and child in the world and must be the decision and resolution of the widest multilateral coalition that is possible.